This Basil’s Grave story is just too wonderful.
Flying Officer Basil Mark Fisher, a fighter pilot, was killed in action during The Battle of Britain on August 15th 1940 and later buried at Eton.
And, 75 years on, the story has been re-visited recently thanks to the kind efforts of two wonderful girls from Eton College – Kate and Sarah.
Kate Pierce, Head of German, who lives beside the now closed graveyard of St. John’s, on Eton Wick Road, Eton, looked out of her son’s bedroom window and noticed a distinctive Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) headstone. The attached photo taken from Basil’s headstone shows that small window over the top of Mark Fisher, just bending over, and Sarah, Eton College School Librarian. Kate, with the leather handbag, is standing to the right.
When Kate noticed the CWGC headstone – specific to all casualties of the two world wars – she wondered why that grave was NOT being looked after correctly? As Kate began tidying up the grave, she then noticed that the grave next door was also a fallen hero of the Second World War, bomber crew, and tidied that one too. Then she noticed the third fallen hero Basil Mark Fisher…and tidied that one as well, along with the help of her tutor group. At no point did she realise that one of the graves belonged to an Old Etonian.
On Remembrance Sunday 2014, Kate and her tutor group left a very touching note to all three heroes in the form of a wreath with her signature. She left her wreath on the middle headstone.
Quite separately Sarah Warren MacMillan, Eton College School Librarian, was researching Etonians who had fought in The Battle of Britain for the 75th anniversary of the conflict. Using the CWGC site to discover more about those who had been killed during the conflict, she was astonished to find one was buried in Eton itself; that man was Flight Officer Basil Mark Fisher. It took several attempts to find the grave, as there are several graveyards in Eton, but on a Sunday afternoon in late September, 2015, the search paid off.
While looking over Basil’s grave Sarah noticed a wreath on the grave adjacent to Basil’s and realised the dedication was from Kate, her work colleague and friend. Later that evening, Sarah – intrigued – contacted Kate by email to ask why she had left the wreath on the grave next to Basil, which is of a young RAF serviceman killed over Dusseldorf, thinking that she might have a connection with him. Kate replied almost straight away, saying that she had no idea that Basil was an Old Etonian, and that she had been tending the graves with her tutor group as a mark of respect.
By another twist of fate, Sarah had coincidentally met Andy Saunders, an aviation historian and Editor of Britain at War Magazine, at a mutual friend’s book launch at the Imperial War Museum only a couple of months prior to her researching the Battle of Britain. Andy had since been helping Sarah with her research into Old Etonians involved in the conflict, and had a very personal interest in Flight Officer Basil Mark Fisher, as it was he who had originally investigated the crash site of Basil’s Hurricane near Selsey Bill in the 1970s.
Sarah messaged Andy from the graveyard (how modern!) the moment she finally found the grave in St. John’s Cemetery, and when they spoke later that evening, he told her that he knew Basil’s nephew from his previous investigations at the crash site. Sarah asked Andy if he felt it appropriate for her to contact the family about her discovery, and he passed on Mark’s contact details. Sarah sent an introductory email to Mark, explaining recent events, and so it all began…
The photograph shows Andy (right) and Mark at Basil’s grave.
Sarah was put in touch with Mark and here we go…
What an incredible unfolding story?
All because of The Angels of Eton – Sarah & Kate. Bless them both.
Sarah and Kate gave a talk to her tutorial group early in October 2015, as the boys were keen to hear more of the servicemen buried in the graves they had been tending, and Sarah’s subsequent research into the graves revealed the following:
Basil Mark FISHER was killed 15th August 1940, aged 23. Educated at Eton, he read Modern Languages and History at Trinity College, Cambridge. Commissioned in the RAFVR in July 1938 and called to full-time service in October 1939. He joined 111 Squadron at Croydon in May 1940 after completing training. On 15th August, in action with Ju88s and Me110s, he was shot down over Selsey and baled out, but his parachute caught fire and he was killed. His Hurricane P3944 crashed at Greenwoods Farm, Sidlesham.
His older brother Flight Officer Antony George Anson Fisher also served in 111 Squadron. He was commissioned in the RAFVR in August 1939, and called to full-time service at the outbreak of war, marrying only several weeks before on 29th July. He joined 111 Squadron in Wick in March 1940, three months before his brother Basil. After seeing his brother shot down on 15th August, Antony was posted away shortly afterwards to 8FTS. He was awarded the AFC (gazetted 1st September 1944), and released from the RAF as a Squadron Leader in 1945.
Ronald Victor PARDY (grave to the immediate left of Basil)
was killed over Dusseldorf on the 27th December, 1941, aged 19. CWGC lists only that Pardy had been a member of 150 Squadron, but not as to the nature of his death. What intrigues most is how a serviceman killed in Germany came to be buried in Eton. Again, Andy Saunders to the rescue!
Andy’s advice to look at the Operations Records (O/R) at Kew for the date concerned revealed online copies of the original typed O/R; these are detailed accounts of what happened to each squadron on any given night. It transpires from these that 150 Squadron were sent on a raid to Dusseldorf, and were met by heavy A/A fire; Pardy’s Wellington bomber was the only plane in the squadron to be severely damaged, but it managed to limp home with all hydraulics damaged. A forced belly landing after the landing gear failed, revealed that all crew had survived apart from Pardy who had been killed by flak towards the back of the aircraft.
Further investigations into relatives have so far been to no avail, but it is interesting to note that beneath Pardy’s original headstone are inscriptions to both his mother and father, who died in subsequent years, and we can only assume they were interred with him at a later date. Initial enquiries as to whether his parents were employees of Eton have been as yet unsuccessful (records up until the latter years of the 20th century are patchy), but this is ongoing.
Daniel (Donald) George Macintyre ROBERTSON (grave second left from Basil) died 22nd November, 1944, aged 31.
CWGC lists Robertson as a member of 1st Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, and that his first Christian name is Daniel.
What happened to Robertson can only be speculation, but research reveals that the 1st Ox and Bucks landed in Normandy after D-Day in June 1944, and after an unsuccessful operation to take the town of Caen, the 1st Ox and Bucks moved to positions around the Odon bridgehead and suffered heavy German artillery fire. The Allies launched further attempts to capture Caen, and later entered the city successfully on 9th July. Fighting around Caen continued for much of the month, with the battalion sustaining significant casualties. The battalion later fought in the Second Battle of the Odon, and in August took part in the advance towards Falaise, the latter signifying the end of the battle for Normandy. The 1st Battalion, Ox and Bucks then took part in the advance East and eventually entered Belgium in early September.
Whilst there is no way of knowing when Robertson himself was injured, ancestry.co.uk reveals that he was born in 1913 in the Reading District, lived on Eton High Street up until his enlistment, and died in the Bath District in 1944, presumably from wounds sustained in France which necessitated him being sent back to England for medical treatment.
The photograph shows Sarah (left) and Kate standing by Basil’s Grave.
Basil Mark Fisher (the Second!) first talk on the subject, from The Eton Library of Sarah to the students of Kate, was given on Wednesday 23rd March 2016.
Basil Mark Fisher 1917-1940
A Family at War….
GOOD EVENING BOYS. (PIC ONE, BMF)
I AM SO PLEASED TO HAVE BEEN INVITED TO TELL YOU A LITTLE ABOUT MY UNCLE BASIL WHO LIES BURIED NOT 500 YARDS FROM WHERE WE ARE. HE TOO, WAS PRIVILIGED TO BE EDUCATED AT THIS UNIQUE AND VERY SPECIAL SCHOOL. AS INDEED, WERE MY FATHER, MYSELF AND MY BROTHER MIKE HERE TODAY WITH ME.
BUT FOR THE KIND ACTIONS OF SARAH YOUR DELIGHTFUL LIBRARIAN WHO WAS TAKING AN INTEREST IN ETONIANS WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN THE IN THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN AND KIND KATE WHOSE HOME OVERLOOKS THE GRAVEYARD. KATE HAD CARINGLY NOTICED SOME OF THE GRAVES GOING UNLOVED – THIS STORY MIGHT NOT HAVE COME ALIVE…AND I SINCERELY THANK THEM BOTH. AND ANDY SAUNDERS, AUTHOR AND RESPECTED AVIATION HISTORIAN, WHO RECOVERED PARTS OF BASILS HURRICANE IN 1975 – PUT SARAH IN TOUCH WITH ME.
TO UNDERSTAND BASILS STORY, I’LL DIGRESS A LITTLE AS THE HISTORY SURROUNDING HIS FORBEARS MAKES IT OBVIOUS THAT HE WOULD BE AMONGST THE FIRST TO VOLUNTEER TO DEFEND HIS COUNTRY.
MY UNCLE – AFTER WHOM I AM NAMED – WAS DESCENDED ON HIS MOTHERS SIDE FROM THE ANSON FAMILY (THE GREAT LORD ANSON CIRCUMNAVIGATED THE WORLD IN HMS CENTURION 1740-1744 BRINGING BACK ‘THE PRIZE OF ALL THE OCEANS – £50,000,00 (!) AFTER HE BOLDLY ATTACKED AND BOARDING NUESTRA SENORA DE COVADONGA (THE MANILA GALLEON) IN THE PACIFIC (PIC TWO CENTURION TAKING THE COVADONGA). THE VALUE OF THE GOLD AND SILVER BROUGHT BACK TO THE TOWER OF LONDON WAS SO VAST IT EQUATED TO NEARLY A THIRD OF THE ENTIRE ANNUAL BUDGET OF THE ROYAL NAVY AT THAT TIME (1744=£2,835,000). INDEED, IT TOOK MORE THAN 30 CARRIAGES TO CONVEY IT TO THE TOWER OF LONDON.
BASILS MOTHER JANET WAS AN ANSON. AND ON HIS FATHERS SIDE HIS MANY TIMES GREAT GREAT GRAND FATHER WAS CAPTAIN JOHN FISHER WHO COMMANDED THE MARGARET AND JOHN UNDER DRAKE AT THE BATTLE OF THE SPANISH ARMADA IN 1588 (PIC 3 MARGARET AND JOHN) ASSISTING DRAKE IN THE CAPTURE OF THE NUESTRA SENORE DEL ROSARIO).
IT WAS CAPTAIN JOHN FISHER WHOSE TESTIMONY HELPED DRAKE IN A SUBSEQUENT CLAIM AFTER THE BATTLE. CAPTAIN FISHER LANDED THE FISHER CANNONS STILL TO THIS DAY EMBEDDED IN THE PAVEMENT IN THE VILLAGE OF CLEY IN NORFOLK – BELIEVED TO BE FROM THE ARMADA) (PIC 4 FISHER CANNON AT CLEY).
BASIL’S GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER ADMIRAL WILLIAM FISHER WAS IN THE TRAFALGAR CAMPAIGN AS LIEUTENANT IN THE SUPERB AS NELSON CHASED FRENCH ADMIRAL VILLE NEUVE ACROSS THE ATLANTIC PRIOR TO TRAFALGAR. LATER COMMANDING HMS ASIA IN A SQUADRON OFF ALEXANDRIA HE HAD THE TASK OF CONTROLLING THE BARBARY PIRATES AND KEEPING THE MAIL ROUTES OPEN ACROSS EGYPT – HE RECEIVED THE TURKISH GOLD MEDAL AND A SWORD WHICH NOW HANGS IN MY HOME.
IN THE FIRST WAR, HIS UNCLE TOM FISHER WAS CHAPLAIN OF THE 7TH DIVISION AT THE BATTLE(S) OF PASSCHENDAELE. TOM WAS SUBSEQUENTLY AWARDED THE MILITARY CROSS AT THE BATTLE OF PAPADOPOLI IN ITALY FOR RESCUING SOLDIERS UNDER FIRE AS A COMBINED BRITISH AND ITALIAN ARMY DROVE THE AUSTRIANS OUT OF ITALY (OCTOBER 1918).
BASILS LOVING FATHER GEORGE – MY GRANDFATHER – WAS ALSO KILLED FIGHTING FOR HIS COUNTRY (PIC 5 GEORGE IN UNIFORM) IN PALESTINE IN 1917. CAPTAIN GEORGE FISHER OF THE 4TH NORFOLKS LIES BURIED ON A LONELY HILLSIDE IN GAZA. HE WAS A GIFTED AMATEUR ARTIST AND HAD GONE FORWARD TO SKETCH THE TURKISH LINES FOR THE GUNNERS WAY BEHIND. HE RETURNED THE NEXT DAY TO FINISH HIS SKETCH AND WAS MORTALLY WOUNDED BY A TURKISH SNIPER WAITING FOR HIM.
I HAVE HERE THE BOUND LETTERS LETTERS WRITTEN BY GEORGE TO JANET FROM HIS TRENCH. EVERY LETTER BEGINS ‘MY VERY OWN DARLING’ AND REFERS WITH SO MUCH LOVE TO PRECIOUS ‘TORVALD’ (HIS NICKNAME FOR ANTONY) AND BASIL. THEY ARE MOST MOVING AND SO VERY PERSONAL. OF COURSE THEY END WITH HIS COLONELS LETTER DESCRIBING HIS DEATH ON SEPTEMBER 2ND 1917 AND HIS BLEAK GRAVE ON SAMPSONS RIDGE. YOU COULD THUS SAY BASIL WAS DESCENDED FROM A FAMILY AT WAR.
AND I AND MY GENERATION HAVE BEEN ETERNALLY GRATEFUL THAT WE, TOO HAVE NOT HAD TO ENDURE ANOTHER ‘GREAT WAR’.
BASIL NEVER KNEW HIS FATHER (PIC 6 ANTONY AND BASIL WITH MOTHER). THE BOYS WERE BROUGHT UP BY THEIR MOTHER JANET (PIC7). THEY HAD LIVED AT ASHDOWN PARK THE FAMILY HOME IN SUSSEX. AFTER GEORGE’S DEATH THEY MOVED INTO THE ROEBUCK PUB ON THE EDGE OF THE ESTATE. IT HAD BEEN VACANT SINCE MY GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER HAD CLOSED IT TO STOP HIS WIFE SENDING THE BUTLER DOWN FOR A TIPPLE. AFTER GEORGE’S DEATH, ASHDOWN PARK WAS LENT TO THE BELGIAN GOVERNMENT AND USED TO REHABILITATE WOUNDED BELGIAN OFFICERS.
THE BOYS WENT TO ST MICHAELS SCHOOL IN UCKFIELD AND THEN ON TO ETON WHERE THEY WERE IN MR ROWSON’S HOUSE. BASIL EXCELLED AT SPORTS AT ETON (PIC 8 IN ROWSONS CRICKET TEAM) AND WAS SUBSEQUENTLY CAPTAIN OF THE FIRST 11 (PIC 9) HE CAPTAINED THE ETON TEAM IN THE 1935 ETON AND HARROW MATCH. AND THIS PICTURE SHOWS HIM IN THE MONARCH CREW AT 4TH JUN 1935 – (PIC 10 AND THIS IS THE VERY BOATER HE WORE ON THAT DAY).
ANTONY AND BASIL GRADUATED FROM TRINITY COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE WHERE THEY BOTH LEARNT TO FLY WITH THE CAMBRIDGE AIR SQUADRON. IN 1937 AND 1938 THEY FLEW IN MY FATHERS VEGA GULL GYPSY 6 (PIC 11) ACROSS EUROPE TO AND FROM LAKE COMO. IN ORDER TO DO THIS, THEY HIRED THE AIRCRAFT OUT FOR THREE WEEKENDS SO THEY COULD EXPLORE THE CONTINENT ON THE FOURTH!
ON ONE OCCASION BASIL NOTED SOMETHING IN THE CLOUDS ABOVE THEM… AND THEY WERE HORRIFIED TO DISCOVER IT WAS THE EIFFEL TOWER. MY FATHER HAD 200 FLYING HOURS ON HIS FLYING LICENCE BEFORE THE WAR (SOME PILOTS RECEIVED AS LITTLE AS 7 INITIAL INSTRUCTION HOURS DURING THE WAR!)
SADLY, THEIR MOTHER DIED AFTER A LONG ILLNESS JUST BEFORE THE WAR. ANTONY AND BASIL WERE BOTH COMMISSIONED INTO THE ROYAL AIR FORCE VOLUNTEER RESERVE (RAFVR) AND CALLED TO FULL TIME SERVICE. ANTONY JOINING 111 HURRICANE SQUADRON AT WICK IN 1939 AND BASIL JOINING THE SAME SQUADRON AT CROYDON IN MAY 1940 (PIC 12).
PIC 13 is BASIL WITH HIS COMMANDING OFFICER.
AUGUST 15TH 1940 WAS TO CHANGE ANTONY’S LIFE.
THE ENEMY FLEW 2000 SORTIES THAT DAY USING 800 BOMBERS AND 1000 FIGHTERS. A GERMAN SQUADRON OF FIFTEEN ME 110’s AND EIGHT ME 109’s ATTACKED RAF CROYDON THREE TIMES. 111 SQUADRON WAS WAITING. IN THE ENSUING MELEE, THE GERMAN COMMANDER RUBENSDORFER AND SIX OTHER MESSERCHMITT’S WERE SHOT DOWN. AS 111 SQUADRON PURSUED THE REMAINING GERMAN AIRCRAFT BACK TO THE COAST, MY FATHER SAW BASIL’S HURRICANE LEAVE A DOGFIGHT OVER SELSEY BILL TRAILING SMOKE. BASIL WAS SEEN TO BAIL OUT – BUT HIS PARACHUTE WAS ON FIRE – AND HE WAS KILLED.
BASILS HURRICANE P3944 WAS ONE OF 34 AIRCRAFT LOST BY THE RAF ON THAT FATEFUL DAY (PIC 14 PILOT LESS HURRICANE CRASHING AND PIC 15 THE BARN UNDER WHICH THE AIRCRAFT RESTS TO THIS DAY). THE GERMANS LOST 75.
PRIME MINISTER CHURCHILL HAD VISITED FIGHTER COMMAND TO WATCH THE ACTION UNFOLD. THE NEXT DAY HE USED HIS IMMORTAL WORDS ‘NEVER IN THE FIELD OF HUMAN CONFLICT, WAS SO MUCH OWED BY SO MANY TO SO FEW’. HE REPEATED THESE WORDS IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON THE 20TH AUGUST.
SOMETIME IN AUGUST 1940 – MY FATHER STOOD IN THE GRAVE YARD BURYING HIS BROTHER. TWO ORPHANS PARTING FOR THE LAST TIME. THEY WERE NOT FROM THESE PARTS – BUT THE SECOND WORLD WAR WAS AT ITS HEIGHT.
BASIL HAD BEEN SO VERY HAPPY AT ETON. AND TIME WAS SHORT… ETON SEEMED AN IDEAL RESTING PLACE. ONE CANNOT IMAGINE THE GRIEF AND DESPAIR OF HIS BROTHER. YEARS LATER, MY FATHER TOLD ME THAT HE DID NOT POSSES THE NECESSARY AGRESSION TO BE A FIGHTER PILOT. BUT HE DID POSESS INCREDIBLE INTELLECT, TENACITY AND TRAIN OF THOUGHT. THIS ALLOWED HIM TO GO ON TO DEVELOP THE FISHER TRAINER AFTER THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (PIC 16 CARTOON BY GIEREK A POLISH PILOT) THE PROTOTYPE WAS BUILT OUT OF MECCANO.
THE FISHER TRAINER TAUGHT PILOTS HOW TO GIVE ENOUGH ‘LEAD’ TO THEIR AIM. FOR THIS HE WAS AWARDED THE AIR FORCE CROSS (AFC). ANTONY WAS ALSO INVOLVED IN HAVING CAMERAS FITTED INTO THE WINGS OF THE HURRICANES THUS SENIOR OFFICERS COULD SEE THE ACTUAL RESULTS OF THE PILOTS SHOOTING.
AFTER THE WAR, ANTONY WENT ON TO BUILD A HUGE AGRI BUSINESS EMPIRE PRODUCING 785000 CHICKEN A WEEK TO FEED A HUNGRY POST WAR NATION. AS MY SISTER, THE ECONOMIST LINDA WHETSTONE, PUT IT SO WELL, ‘AFTER THE WAR HE REALISED THAT BOTH HIS FATHER AND HIS BROTHER HAD GIVEN THEIR LIVES FOR THE FREEDOM OF THEIR FELLOW COUNTRY MEN. AND YET HE SAW FREEDOM DIMINISHING.’
TO COUNTERACT THIS SOCIALIST ASSAULT ON FREEDOM HE FOUNDED THE WORLD’S FIRST FREE MARKET THINK TANK, THE INSTITUTE OF ECONOMIC AFFAIRS (IEA) IN LONDON IN 1955, WHICH STRONGLY INFLUENCED MARGARET THATCHER SOME 25 YEARS LATER. HE THEN FOUNDED THE ATLAS INSTITUTE IN THE USA TO HELP PEOPLE REPLICATE THE IEA. BY 2015 THEY HAD PROMOTED 486 FREE MARKET THINK TANKS WORLDWIDE.
ANTONY FISHER WAS KNIGHTED BY LADY THATCHER FOR HIS WORK DEFENDING FREEDOM FOUR WEEKS BEFORE HE DIED IN 1988.
I WOULD LIKE TO END WHERE I BEGAN – AGAIN TO THANK SARAH AND KATE – NOT THIS TIME FOR ASKING ME TO HERE TONIGHT. BUT FOR PROVIDING THE SOLUTION BEYOND ANY DREAMS, TO A DILEMMA THAT MY FATHER TOOK TO HIS GRAVE.
HAVING BURIED HIS YOUNGER BROTHER (PIC ONE) AT ETON DAD WORRIED ALL OF HIS LIFE HOW THE GRAVE MIGHT BE CARED FOR AFTER HIS OWN DEATH. THESE KIND LADIES (KNOWN TO MY BROTHER AND I AS THE ANGELS OF ETON!) COMPLETELY UNKNOWN TO ANY OF US IN THE FAMILY – HAVE DONE THE VERY THING THAT MY FATHER MOST WANTED… THEY SHOWERED THE GRAVE OF A FALLEN HERO WITH THEIR KINDNESS. THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART.
With acknowledgements to Gerald Frost, ‘Antony Fisher’ Champion of Liberty
B.M.Fisher, Basil’s Nephew. MARCH 2016
FISHER FAMILY GENEALOGY FROM 1250>2016
BASILS MONARCH BOATER
HURRICANE .303 AMMO
DE STEMMATE PISCATORIS”
The three photographs below show the ‘old rugged cross’ presented to Kate and Sarah, The Angels of Eton, with love and gratitude by The Fisher Family.
This wooden cross, which loosely reflects the stone cross on Basil’s grave at Eton, was built with kindness, caring and no charge, by The Chirpy Chippie of Knowle (in a bowler hat), Solihull and cunningly holds a deactivated .303 shell from Basil’s actual crashed Hurricane P3944 recovered in 1975 by Andy Saunders .
An eerie touchstone between The Fallen Hero and those lucky enough to benefit from The Freedom for which he perished.